Increasing evidence suggests that endogenous sex steroid changes affect human brain functional connectivity, which could be obtained by resting-state fMRI (RS-fMRI). Nevertheless, RS studies on the menstrual cycle (MC) are underrepresented and yield inconsistent results. We attribute these inconsistencies to the use of various methods in exploratory approaches and small sample sizes. Hormonal fluctuations along the MC likely elicit subtle changes that, however, may still have profound impact on network dynamics when affecting key brain nodes. To address these issues, we propose a ROI-based multimodal analysis approach focusing on areas of high functional relevance to adequately capture these changes. To that end, sixty naturally cycling women underwent RS-fMRI in three different cycle phases and we performed the following analyses: (1) group-independent component analyses to identify intrinsic connectivity networks, (2) eigenvector centrality (EC) as a measure of centrality in the global connectivity hierarchy, (3) amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF) as a measure of oscillatory activity and (4) seed-based analyses to investigate functional connectivity from the ROIs. For (2)-(4), we applied a hypothesis-driven ROI approach in the hippocampus, caudate and putamen. In the luteal phase, we found (1) decreased intrinsic connectivity of the right angular gyrus with the default mode network, (2) heightened EC for the hippocampus, and (3) increased ALFF for the caudate. Furthermore, we observed (4) stronger putamen-thalamic connectivity during the luteal phase and stronger fronto-striatal connectivity during the pre-ovulatory phase. This hormonal modulation of connectivity dynamics may underlie behavioural, emotional and sensorimotor changes along the MC.
Keywords: Amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF); Eigenvector centrality mapping (ECM); Intrinsic connectivity networks (ICN); Menstrual cycle; Resting state; Seed-based connectivity.